The London Olympics are over but images and moments from the world’s biggest sporting extravaganza continue to stay fresh in our minds. However, if we think about it, most of us tend to recall the highs at the Games. We are able to only remember the names of the winners; we are keen to know about those who received the accolades and broke records. Artist Sarnath Banerjee thinks otherwise. The artist is set to launch an exhibition, Barwa Khiladi, which is a tribute to people who have faced failure.
The Weightlifting poster from the exhibition
“Barwa Khiladi, the name borrowed from an Urdu short story, is an exhibition of underachievers. It was commissioned by the London Olympics and was essentially designed as a campaign of billboards, posters and newspaper strips around people who tend to lose, despite rigorous training, discipline and practice,” says Banerjee.
The exhibition is part of a project that was organised during the London Olympics earlier this year. Named The Gallery of Losers, it was a collection of a dozen vignettes that were displayed individually on 48 large billboards across the eastern boroughs of London to celebrate losers. The images were a cultural counterpoint to the Olympics that has historiacally been a celebration of human physical skills.
Banerjee got the idea of getting in the skin of a loser and artistically presenting it in Brazil four years back and he finally thought that Olympics would be an ideal time to give expression to it and ruffle up the clichés that surround winning.
“I got the idea in Brazil in 2008, where as part of the Sao Paolo Bienal I was interviewing silver medallist Judoka Douglas Vierra. He almost won the gold at the LA Olympics after defeating the Japanese favourite but lost to a Korean in the finals. During the course of the interview, he demonstrated to me the art of falling and threw me several times on to the matt. It was strangely liberating, as if with each fall my mind incrementally cleared up. He told me that Judo is as much about falling as it is about throwing. I remember something deeply wise about him. Four years later I made it into a proposal.”
Although the project got Banerjee tremendous acclaim, he admits that putting together an exhibition with a subject like this wasn’t a cakewalk. “Writing about non-achievers and getting under the skin of the loser was very easy. But, whether to keep it factual reportage or a surreal work of imagination took a few months to arrive at. Choosing the latter as a device wasn’t easy, but now I feel good about it,” he avers. Finally, when asked about his personal favourite piece, the artist was quick to respond, “They are all my children.”